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Decorated airmen commemorate the dead

PUBLISHED: 17:30 21 July 2010 | UPDATED: 11:49 23 August 2010

Distinguished airmen, past and present, turned out to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. With the aid of the Gravesend Reporter, who helped him to the event at the Thong Lane memorial, 91-year-old Mahinder Singh Pujji met with fell

Distinguished airmen, past and present, turned out to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

With the aid of the Gravesend Reporter, who helped him to the event at the Thong Lane memorial, 91-year-old Mahinder Singh Pujji met with fellow fighter pilots, schoolchildren and The vice Lord Lieutenant Viscount De Lisle on Monday.

Mr Pujji, of The Grove, Gravesend, came from India to England in 1940 to train as a fighter pilot, flying in campaigns over Europe, the Middle East and Burma.

Having settled in Gravesend, he is frequently invited to events in London but was overlooked for the Gravesend service, until we stepped in to invite and accompany him.

He said: "It is funny they never seem to invite me to events in my neighbourhood, sometimes I think I am forgotten."

Mr Pujji, who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest honour for airmen, for his service in Burma, also met a serving pilot, Flight Lieutenant Marc Heal from Brighton, who earned the Cross fighting in Afghanistan last year.

He added: "It is an honour to attend this service and meet with other holders of the cross and I am so pleased that Gravesend remembers what all these pilots did for the country such a long time, it is vitally important we remember and honour these men."

Mr Pujji, who was given a standing ovation when announced by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Brigadier David Ralls, talked with pupils from nearby Riverview Primary School, built on land that was formerly airfields.

Former Gravesend Grammar student Flight Sergeant Steven Tindall and vicar of Chalk, Nigel Bourne, led prayers following the wreath laying.

Flt Sgt Tindall was instrumental in establishing a memorial service and plaque at the site by Cascades Leisure Centre alongside former Cascades manager Jim Hughes who sent a message of support from Australia to be read at the service.

Flt Sgt Tindall said: "Growing up here I thought it was important the men who worked and fought out of here were properly remembered. Ninety-five per cent of the people around here probably don't even realise the area's significance to the war."

The airfield was commandeered by the RAF at the start of the war as an offshoot of Biggin Hill airport and squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires flew out of the airfield throughout 1940.

A Battle of Britain ball is to ve organised by The Rotary Club of Gravesend and Meopham on September 18 at the Royal Terrace Pier and member Alan Ridgers, who also attended the ceremony, was delighted to invite Mr Pujji as a guest of honour.

He said: "We would be honoured to have him there"

Mr Pujji is set to publish a book about his life as a fighter pilot.

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